The Role of the Individual in History and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Part – I)

In 1898, a famous Russian Marxist philosopher and historian Georgii Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856-1918) wrote historical essays in Russian on the role of the individual in History and draw conclusions like present ruling military junta’s (SPDC- State Peace and Development Council) view on Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma that, the role of the individual in making history is misjudged notions propounded by materialistic philosophers & culture and it negates the general historical progress of the society. Plekhanov’s thesis later found most suitable for the propagation of communist views of dialectical materialism & theory of people’s democracy after Bolsheviks revolution in Russia after his death in August 1918. And Soviet supported press Gospolitizdat (State Publishers of Political Literature) Moscow translated the Plekhanov’s Russian thesis in English edition in 1944 for wider readership of the view in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Plekhanov’s interpretation of the role of the individual in history was written in the political settings of the end of 19th century socio-political circumstances, when the most part of the globe was under colonialism and monarchy. But the later Marxist leaders found it suitable mistakenly for the philosophy of people’s democracy of proletariats, which criticizes vehemently the importance of the role played by individuals in historical transformation. It was mistaken because Marxists who spread the ideology of Plekhanov, themselves fall victims of promoting image of individual heroism of their leaders (As big statue & photograph of Lenin, Stalin in Russia and Mao in China had been installed at major points of their cities and other communist countries) rather than Plekhanov’s more stress on circumstances which creates revolution and state power transformation. Although, Plekhanov thesis gives new insights into intellectual philosophical debates , but the history of the world has different facts to prove that Plekhanov was far away from the truth like SPDC in Burma.

Plekhanov, criticizing role of the individual in history blames subjectivists for promoting individualism and gives lesson that, “History is made by men, and therefore, that the activities of individuals cannot help being important in history.” (1) He further founds Bismarck’s speech delivered in the North German Reichstag on April 16, 1869 suitable for his arguments and quotes his speech in his essay that, “We Cannot ignore the history of the past, nor can we, gentlemen, create the future. I would like to warn you against the mistake that causes people to advance the hands of their clocks, thinking that thereby they are hastening the passage of time. My influence on the events I took advantage of is usually exaggerated; but nobody would demand that I should make history. I could not do that even in conjunction with you, gentlemen, although together, we could stand up against the whole world. We cannot make history; we must wait while it is being made. We will not make fruit ripen more quickly by subjecting it to the heat of a lamp; and if we pluck the fruit before it is ripe we will only prevent its growth and spoil it.” (2) He analyzes I.I. Kablitz (1848-1893, a Russian Narodnik thinker), Gustave Lanson (1857-1934, French Literary Critic and Writer), V.G. Belinsky (1811-1848, an outstanding Russian Critic), George Simmel (1858-1918, A German Philosopher and Sociologists and follower of Kant), Thiers (1797-1877, a French Statesman, historian and organizer of the ruthless suppression of the Paris Commune, remembered by Plekhanov as reactionary), Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869, A French Poet and Literary Critic), Gabriel Mably (1709-1785, A French Utopian Communist) and most importantly Karl Lamprecht (1856-1915, German Historian, remembered by Plekhanov as bourgeois) and propounds that, “General historical circumstances are more potent than the strongest individuals. For a great man, the general character of his epoch is “empirically given necessity.” (3) Plekhanov, more than one hundred years back like present military junta in Burma went by the words of Bismarck (or intentionally did it to theorize his thesis) rather than reading between the lines of his future visions, who was well aware of his position and role in German politics & history, when he says, “nor can we, gentlemen create the future”. Bismarck was full aware of his role like great man in history as an individual than commoners; otherwise Plekhanov wouldn’t be quoting him in his equally famous thesis. Moreover those individuals who are great, they never say that they are great, otherwise they wouldn’t have become great in their roles in history. Although, Plekhanov’s examples were mostly from European history and political settings, but communists of Asia and Africa fall victims of his theory and found it even suitable for Asia.

SPDC under the Chairmanship of the State Peace and Development Council, Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Than Shwe is making a fatal mistake of historical judgment and great national disservice to the people of Burma by propagating that, “Daw Suu Kyi and NLD (National League for Democracy) are not the essential saviours or elements for national development and Myanmar is not a country of ‘saviours’,” (4) negating the role of the individual in history like Plekhanov’s thesis blunders. And if individual’s role is not important at all in SPDC’s view, than, why it becomes necessary for Tatmadaw (military in Burma) to read his Chairman’s message in-absence on 59th Anniversary of the independence day in Burma on 4th January 2007, (5) when he was not present at Nay Pyi Taw and on treatment at Singapore? And more importantly General Than Shwe’s message to the nation’s young generation on 59th independence day doesn’t mention even a single word about – Bogyoke Aung San (also known as Bo Te Za), U Nu, Ba Maw, Thakin Kodaw Hmaing etc. contributions to the freedom struggle of Burma, as if independence of Burma has been brought only by General Than Shwe! He even forgets that, the Tatmadaw, whom he is commanding and perpetuating his power was created by Bogyoke Aung San.

It is a sheer intellectual bankruptcy of the SPDC to state in their media – The New Light of Myanmar, that, “ Daw Suu Kyi is pursuing his non-violent struggle in Burma because she has won more than eighty international awards including Nobel Peace Prize and at the expense of sweet and blood of party members. And now she is like a fly caught in a web because she has been binded with the strings of the awards. (6) Probably SPDC has forgotten that the award which was given to Suu Kyi was not asked by Suu Kyi. It was her work, personal sacrifice and love to the people of Burma brought her nearer to those awards. She is among few leaders of contemporary Asia who has got best of the education from reputed institutions of Asia & Europe and her research at India’s apex Social Sciences institution at – Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla was on “Burma and India: Some Aspects of Intellectual Life under Colonialism”, about which SPDC leadership has forgotten in 59th independence day of Burma.


Important Note: Plekhanov’s theories other answer will be given in details in next part, in the context of Modern Asian History including Burma.


1. G.V. Plekhanov, The Role of The Individual In History, Translated From the Russian by J. Fineberg, Foreign Language Publishing House, Gospolitizdat, Moscow, USSR, 1944, p.17.

2. Ibid., P.20

3. Ibid., P.21

4. Maung Setana, The Only Way Out For NLD, The New Light of Myanmar, Thursday, 05 October, 2006, P.9.

5. General Than Shwe’s message on 59th Independence Day of Burma, Powerful Countries interfering in internal affairs of others, Young generations are duty bound to safeguard independence and sovereignty, The New Light of Myanmar, Vol. XIV, No. 263, Thursday 04, January 2007, p. 1 & p.8.

6. Note- 04, p.10.


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